Will Technological Change Save the World? The Rebound Effect in International Transfers of Technology

Working paper 669
Mare Sarr and Tim Swanson
Publication date: 
February, 2017
Environmental and Resource Economics
Technological change and its transfer to developing countries is often portrayed by policy-makers as a critical part of the solution to a resource problem such as climate change, based on the assumption that the transfer of resource-conserving technologies to developing countries will result in reduced use of natural capital by those countries. We demonstrate here, in a capital conversion based model of development, that the free transfer of resource-conserving technologies to developing countries will increase the options available to those countries, but that the way that they expend these options need not be in the direction of conserving resources. This is another example of the potential for a rebound effect to determine ultimate
outcomes, here in the context of international technology transfer policy. The transfer of technologies is as likely to simply move developing countries more rapidly down the same development path as it is to alter the choices they make along that path. For this reason, the transfer of resource conserving technologies, without incentives provided to alter development priorities, may not result in any resource-conservation at all.
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